Nadal vs. Djokovic: Breaking Down the Best Matchup at Roland Garros

Benjamin KleinContributor IIIJune 7, 2013

Who will go to the French Open final, Djokovic or Nadal?
Who will go to the French Open final, Djokovic or Nadal?Susan Mullane-USA TODAY Sports

The only way the 2013 French Open semifinal between Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic could be any better would be if it were for the title a round later.

But the draw didn’t allow for the possibility of a rematch of last year's final between Nadal and Djokovic, where the Spaniard took home his seventh career French Open title. In order for Nadal to have the opportunity to defend his title, he’ll have to get by the top player in the world first.

Neither semifinalist has been tested to this point in the tournament. Nadal has won his last three matches in straight sets, losing the opening set in the first and second rounds. Djokovic only needed an extra set once, but Tommy Haas played very well against him in the quarterfinals despite losing in straight sets.

Djokovic entered Roland Garros as the No. 1 seed in the tournament, while Nadal entered as No. 3—a seed higher than his world ranking due to the withdrawal of Andy Murray before the French Open began. Still, it’s tough to argue that Djokovic is the favorite to advance to the final.

Nadal is the best clay player in the world, hands down.

At the French Open, Nadal has lost only once. He fell in the quarterfinals back in 2009, which ended his streak of four consecutive French Open titles. This year, Nadal has lost just twice on clay, falling in the finals at Monte Carlo and the VTR Open. It just so happens that Djokovic was the one to take him down at Monte Carlo.

Djokovic spoke to the Associated Press (h/t USA Today) about winning at Monte Carlo and what that means for his semifinal matchup against Nadal:

“I played a great match when I faced him on clay this year at Monte Carlo,” Djokovic said. “That match gave me a bit of confidence against him. But here in Roland Garros, he’s very good. He has lost only once in the past 10 years. It will be very difficult for me. But I’m in a very good position now.”

While Djokovic may have a bit of a mental edge going into the semifinals, Nadal has the on-court edge. Nadal is 19-15 against Djokovic in his career, winning 13 of 16 matches on clay surfaces. Djokovic has fallen to Nadal four times in his career at the French Open, most notably in the final a year ago.

This is Djokovic’s opportunity to avenge last year’s loss. But like he said, it’s not going to be easy. Nadal is a great overall tennis player, but he’s inhuman when it comes to playing on clay. He rarely, rarely loses. Djokovic will have to play the best game of his career in order to top the reigning champ.

Nadal told Tom Perrotta of The Wall Street Journal that he’ll be nervousbut more motivated than nervous—in his attempt to defeat Djokovic for the second straight year at the French Open. That’s the perfect mentality to have heading into this highly anticipated matchup, which will likely go five sets.

B/R Featured Columnist Lindsay Gibbs calls this semifinal the “main event” at the French Open, even though it isn't for the title. The winner of this matchup will arguably win it all, no matter if he faces Jo-Wilfried Tsonga or David Ferrer. The semifinal between Nadal and Djokovic will determine this year’s winner.

Nadal vs.Djokovic is the match everyone wanted to see heading into the French Open, and now we get our wish. If the upcoming semifinal is anything like their previous matchups—close, long and exciting—we’re in store for the best match all year.

Prediction: Nadal over Djokovic: 6-4, 3-6, 6-4, 5-7, 7-5